As if Indian Law weren’t interesting enough, the Tillie Hardwick decision is a nuanced little corner of that world, one that is only of use to California Indians who seek to restore themselves to federally recognized status. To know more about it, we have to explore the background behind the original court case.
Background: The California Rancheria Act of 1958
Congress passed the California Rancheria Act (“CRA”) in 1958 (Pub. Law 85-671, http://digital.library.okstate.edu/kappler/vol6/html_files/v6p0831.html#mn1), terminating forty-one (41) California Indian tribes or “Rancherias.” Those Rancherias are: Alexander Valley, Auburn, Big Sandy, Big Valley, Blue Lake, Buena Vista, Cache Creek, Chicken Ranch, Chico, Cloverdale, Cold Springs, Elk Valley, Guidiville, Graton, Greenville, Hopland, Indian Ranch, Lytton, Mark West, Middletown, Montgomery Creek, Mooretown, Nevada City, North Fork, Paskenta, Picayune, Pinoleville, Potter Valley, Quartz Valley, Redding, Redwood Valley, Robinson, Rohnerville, Ruffeys, Scotts Valley, Smith River, Strawberry Valley, Table Bluff, Table Mountain, Upper Lake, and Wilton.
For those unfamiliar with the term “termination,” what it means is that once upon a time, in the 50′s, the United States government ended its fiduciary relationship with Native Americans. Via legislation, the government wanted to integrate Native Americans into the taxpaying citizenry by removing their tribal sovereignty against state and local ordinances, such as taxes and federally subsidized healthcare. With almost no prep whatsoever, the government effectively told the Indians they were on their own, dissolved federal Indian reservations and transferring parcels of those lands into Indians hands, making them private property owners. The problem was that Indians often had no jobs and little income, leaving them at the mercy of state and local taxes and regulations they were unfamiliar with. In California, the specific legislation introduced was the California Rancheria Act. I talked generally about the Termination Era in one of my tribal disenrollment articles.
Moving on, the CRA contained provisions on how the United States would dissolve its relationship with each of the Rancherias listed. Each Rancheria was to draw up distribution plans for each Indian living there and the United States would undertake surveys and infrastructure improvements. Once the distribution plans were approved and finalized, federal supervision of the Rancherias and the status of tribal members as Indians would terminate. After termination, title was to be conveyed to those distributees identified in the distribution plan, dissolving both the federal government’s fiduciary duty to the distributees and the distributed land’s exemption from state and local laws, ordinances, and regulations.
Tillie Hardwick, et al. v. United States, et al.
On July 10, 1979, distributees from thirty-four (34) Rancherias terminated under the CRA brought a class action lawsuit in the Northern District of California against the United States and various government officials. The Hardwick plaintiffs asserted that the United States violated the Rancheria Act in its effort to terminate federal supervision of the tribes.
Specifically, they claimed that the United States failed to inform the distributees properly of the legal consequences of termination, including the fact that the distributees’ lands would be subject to state and local taxation and regulation, and the fact that the distributees no longer would have access to federal progras and protections. The class was certified to proceed to trial; however, it settled before that could happen. The settlement was finalized on December 22, 1983.
The settlement divided the terminated Rancherias into three (3) sub-classes. The first sub-class contain seventeen (17) Rancherias that were restored to federally recognized status: (1) Big Valley; (2) Blue Lake; (3) Buena Vista; (4) Chicken Ranch; (5) Cloverdale; (6) Elk Valley; (7) Greenville; (8) Mooretown; (9) North Fork; (10) Picayune; (11) Pinoleville; (12) Potter Valley; (13) Quartz Valley; (14) Redding; (15) Redwood Valley; (16) Rohnerville; (17) Smith River.
The second sub-class included twelve (12) Rancherias whose claims were dismissed without prejudice: (1) Graton; (2) Scotts Valley; (3) Guideville; (4) Strawberry Valley; (5) Cache Creek; (6) Paskenta; (7) Ruffeys; (8) Mark West; (9) Wilton; (10) El Dorado; (11) Chico; (12) Mission Creek. They were dismissed because no class member from these Rancherias owned any property within the original Rancheria boundaries. The property was either sold to non-Indians when the Rancheria was terminated and the proceeds of these sales distributed to Rancheria members in lieu of deeds to individual parcels of property or all of the property originally distributed was subsequently sold to non-Indians. In either case the federal defendants are unwilling to re-assume responsibility for any of these Rancherias without a final judicial determination of their obligation to do so.
The third subclass consists of a number of individuals, some of whom were members of Rancherias included in the second subclass, whose claims were dismissed with prejudice because of the res judicata effect of prior lawsuits. (Res judicata is a legal term, also known as claim preclusion, which refers to a case in which there has been a final judgment and is no longer subject to appeal; and the legal doctrine meant to bar (or preclude) continued litigation of such cases between the same parties).
Nisenan Maidu Tribe of the Nevada City Rancheria v. Salazar (2011)
Most recently, a listed Rancheria in the CRA is just now attempting to use the Hardwick case to unterminate themselves.
The plaintiff was a former Rancheria that was listed among the 41 Rancherias terminated by the CRA. They were not amongst the original Hardwick plaintiffs and were attempting to use the Hardwick settlement as a means to “unterminate” themselves. However, pre-trial discovery had not yet shown whether the plaintiffs were members of the Hardwick class since the only two Indians living within Nevada City Rancheria’s original borders were deceased when the Hardwick lawsuit originally went to court and therefore, could not be served notice to appear. Presumably, this litigation is still ongoing.
The court also held that the Plaintiff could successfully open the Hardwick settlement to benefit from its ruling if: 1) they could show that it was a member of the Hardwick class; and 2) it would have been in the sub-class of Rancherias actually entitled to relief under Hardwick and not in the one sub-classes of Rancherias whose claims long since have been dismissed, i.e., by demonstrating that at the time of the Hardwick settlement, at least one class member from the Rancheria owned real property within the original Rancheria boundaries. (To my friends familiar with the law, you would essentially do this under a Rule 60(b) motion.)
The Tillie Hardwick case is a very narrow way allowing California Indians to restore themselves to federally recognized status. Very few can make use of it, but for those who can, it is possible to use this method to achieve federally recognized status rather than going through the onerous route of 28 C.F.R. section 83.7 et. seq. (Which could be a few blog articles in themselves. Hmm…)